The realization comes unexpectedly and suddenly; or it’s a
gradual awakening that can no longer be ignored. Yesterday
you were your mother’s daughter, or your father’s daughter,
as you have been all your life, through all of life’s passages—
but the passages were always yours. You were the one who was
a disruptive three-year-old, compliant ten-year-old, rebellious
adolescent, overconfident college student, confused novice in the
workplace, cocky associate director, nervous newlywed, and then
a sometimes-overwhelmed parent of your own three-year-old.
Through it all, your mother never changed. She was the rock,
home base. Your tumultuous spinning from stage to stage may
have exasperated her from time to time, but she rarely showed
it. She was the fixed point in your small universe, the one you
could always rely on to get you out of that impossible jam, that
catastrophic situation, or so it seemed at the time.
That Was Yesterday
Today is very different. This morning you drove to your mother’s
house for a routine visit and found her sitting in her car in
the driveway, making no effort to move the car or get out. When
you asked her to roll down the window, she did, and she recognized
you. But she had no idea where she was or where she was
The episode confirms a truth you had been trying to hide
from—your mother’s growing detachment from the world
around her. On your last several visits, her home has been in
disarray, extraordinary neglect on the part of a woman who had
been a diligent housekeeper to the point of obsession all your
Or perhaps the realization that your parents are no longer your
protectors but now your dependents comes with your father’s
spinal injury. He was always Mr. Fix-It—electrician, carpenter,
plumber, roofer all in one. Not only did he take care of your
parents’ home, he was the one you called when your furnace collapsed
in midwinter, your own husband far less adept with tools.
Now your father is likely to be a semi-invalid for the rest of his
life, confined to a wheelchair much of the time.
Who Takes Responsibility?
The world is now turned upside down. You have suddenly
become your parents’ parent. And you realize that the coming
years are going to be extremely challenging. How do you talk to
your parents about their changed lives and bring them in on the
decision about what kind of care they need? How do you engage
your siblings in sharing the responsibilities? Which sibling should
be the health care proxy, and should he have absolute authority?
Who should manage the finances and protect your parents’
assets? How do you distinguish between a good assisted living
center and a bad one before your parent is already in residence?
How do you know which option of the senior care continuum
best suits you parents’ needs now? What information do you need
to make the best decisions about care options? We will address
these and many other important issues throughout this book to
help you make wise and responsible senior care decisions.
You are understandably devastated by the realization that your
mother or father is failing. The fear had crossed your mind from
time to time in recent years after they reached the age of seventy,
but you pushed your concern aside in favor of more immediate
worries, like college tuitions for your children. You are likely
feeling guilty because you hadn’t been more insistent that your
parents buy long-term care insurance and create advance directives.
You are afraid that the decisions you make in the coming
months are going to shorten your mother’s life, or worse, make
her final years miserable.